Meet Western Massachusetts native Laura Drenen who is a true goEast gal at heart. Even after being seduced by the mountains of Colorado, Drenen found her way back East to the Green Mountains of Vermont. Through a balanced life, she manages to crush-it daily while being devoted to her career, husband, pup, and self.
goEast:You are one of the busiest gals I know, crushing it from the yoga mat to the mountain, and every little bit in-between. Would you mind sharing with folks a little bit about what you do as a day job, the outdoor activities which inspire you the most to be outside, and your secret to finding the time to work and do what you love?
Laura: I am a Registered Nurse as well as a Nurse Practitioner, and have practiced in various settings including as an NP in orthopedics for almost 6 years. Currently working as a nurse at Copley Hospital in Morrisville, Vermont in the field of Oncology which I feel truly passionate about. I worked in this area previously and felt the desire to come back.
One of the reasons I love living and working in this area, I’m able to do the job I love while finding the balance to enjoy what really matters most to me. Unless I have the flu, you will find me outside playing. A typical day involves commuting to work on my bike, then returning home to fetch my dog Zoey. Depending on the time of year: mountain biking, skinning up any one of our local mountains, cross country skiing, and/or hiking. I practice yoga almost daily and when the weather is nice, I find a place to practice.
As for my “secret” – I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner in my husband, Noah. He supports my goals and visions for fitness. Shares the love of the outdoors. Luckily, we enjoy the same activities too!
goEast:Vermont was not always your home, in fact you lived out in Colorado for a bit and came back East. What drew you back?
Laura: Yes, I lived in Colorado for a couple of years but eventually made my way back East. Vermont was the natural stopping point because of it’s proximity to family and it being an outdoor enthusiast haven due to it’s natural playground. There are lots of little secret zones I love to bike and back country ski, each very close to my home. Feel like I could live here my entire life and never find all of the amazing places the Green Mountains have in terms of great hiking, biking, swimming, and skiing.
I learned to mountain bike in western Mass where, believe it or not, the biking is super rugged. There are so many exposed rocks and roots, it made me love difficult and challenging terrain with a lot of natural technical features. The White Mountains are an area I would love to explore more of. I drive through those craggy mountains on my way to Highland Mountain Bike Park and think, “I’d like to do more hiking and camping in that area, so that’s on my list for next summer!” The coast of Maine is also pretty sweet and I’d like to do more weekend surf trips in the future.
goEast:Riding bikes and finding time to be on your bike is clearly important to your active lifestyle—so much so we met up with you at 6 a.m. to catch you on the way out the door to work one snowy morning! How do you stay motivated to hop on your bike and not into the car?
Laura: For me, I try to focus on how I will feel after I do something which initially may be difficult. Getting up to skin when it’s dark feels like, “why am I doing this, I could be sleeping in!?” But of course, the reward of watching the sunrise over the mountains and having early, fresh turns is always worth it. Biking to work is the same way (although with maybe a little bit less adrenaline). I often have a sense of gratitude that I am able to commute to work via bicycle, for my health, ability to afford a bike, and to live within proximity to work where bike commuting is even an option.
goEast: To make your commute more comfortable on a cold – snow – wintery morning, what are your must have pieces of gear?
Laura: Well, in short, bike commuting in the winter requires—at the very least—studded tires (or a fat bike which I do not have), and neoprene booties to keep your feet dry and warm. Fenders are also a must-have because they prevent the water from spraying you the entire way. Before I got the fenders, I would be soaking wet when I arrived to work! They aren’t cheap but these few things make a huge difference. Warm gloves and keeping all skin covered on super cold days is also necessary. I like to wear sunglasses to keep the wind from making my eyes water. I also suffer from a condition called Raynauds which is where there is very poor circulation to the extremities. This makes outdoor activities difficult in all of Vermont’s seasons, but most especially in the winter months. I am very prone to frostbite and painful fingers and toes. This requires a lot of planning: I sometimes take a hot shower before my activity, pack extra dry layers, hand warmers, etc.
goEast:We caught you mixing up something of a potion, collecting eggs from your chickens, as we trekked through your now snow-covered veggie garden—all clues your nutrition is equally as important to you. As a nurse, a pretty reliable source for information on the topic, could you share more?
Laura: Nutrition is a huge part of an overall healthy lifestyle for me. I try to start my day with either a super food smoothie or a bowl of warm cereal like quinoa or oatmeal to heat me up in the winter. I think the best snacks are the homemade ones but I have to admit I don’t do that as often as I should! In general, I’ve been trying to incorporate some principles of Ayurveda into my diet and have found it’s had a dramatic influence on my health. This includes something as simple as starting the day with a warm glass of water with lemon which I have really found to be helpful with digestion.
My husband is a lifelong vegetarian and we eat a vegetarian diet. I am super lucky that he loves to cook, and is really great at it! We both value healthy living and enjoy growing our own food when possible. We’ve also really love caring for chickens who give us delicious eggs. We are extremely fortunate to eat so well.
goEast: A part of your story which really blows me away, aside from gearing up and riding your bike to work in all sorts of conditions, is learning that you use to be an avid snowboarding until an accident on your bike. Though your passion to be on the mountain inspired you to take up alpine skiing/touring. Could you share a little bit about your experience of letting go of something you loved, and what it took for your to take up a new sport later in life?
Laura: Getting hit by a car has affected my life more than I guess I really admit to. Most notably, I did stop snowboarding because it bothered my back. But I don’t focus on giving something up, but rather how happy I am to have discovered skiing. Unlike most people in a ski town, I did not grow up skiing. In fact, when I moved to Colorado I had hoped to chase the good weather and try to mountain bike and race year round. But I made friends and people convinced me to stick around and experience the Rockies in the winter. I had never liked winter before then. I was 29 and learned to snowboard- it was my first ever experience on a ski slope. Instantly fell in love.
Since I love mountain culture, learning to ski at 35 was just another challenge; one I readily accepted! It’s never easy being new at something, and it certainly affects the ego, especially since I feel that everyone around me has been on skis since before they could walk! I feel grateful that I found all of these sports and hope to continue to enjoying them into old age. And I hope to continue to learn new skills on my bike, skis and yoga. Yoga is great at teaching us to take things slow, realizing growth comes in time and cannot be rushed. My practice has taught me to be easier on myself, and enjoy the present moment.
goEast: You must tell us more about your adorable pup and the role she plays in your active lifestyle. From what I see she and your husband are your greatest cheerleaders in your crushing-it lifestyle!
Laura: Zoey is my constant companion on all adventures (except riding to work and the lifts at the mountain of course). We adopted her from an amazing no-kill animal shelter here in Morrisville and instantly fell in love with her. She loves bike rides and hiking, but skiing is her favorite—a true snow dog! Think she would’ve made an amazing sled dog, actually! I make it a priority to get out with her pretty much every day. A tired dog is a happy dog, which leads to a happy dog parent! I use to compete in down hill mountain biking, however gave it up because I didn’t want to leave her every weekend. It didn’t feel fair to her, but in the long run ended up finding more balance in my own life. That’s what it’s all about: doing what you love within reason. I would never entirely stop something because of a dog, but in ending the weekly travel, I was able to enjoy my life here and find time for everything that I love!